You’re Not Entitled to Success

I did one of those things the other day where I said something on Twitter without really thinking about it and then it became a thing and I had to make sure I hadn’t done a bad thing. Here’s the facts:

I’ve been pretty annoyed with the editorial board of the NYT since forever but also increasingly over time to the point that I cancelled my subscription recently. It’s all the more frustrating because I would die to be an editorialist, and yet one of the best publications ever seems resigned to hire some of the stupidest and least literate people available. Anyway: last week I found out that they had hired a new editorialist for their tech section who is notorious for having bragged about having Nazi friends. She positions herself on the “left” of the political spectrum, but subscribed to this theory that if one makes friends with Nazis and engage with them in conversations then it might moderate their beliefs and behaviour. I, by contrast, subscribe to the belief that people who are hostile to others on the basis of race or religion shouldn’t be permitted in polite society. I can’t imagine calling anyone a friend who is hostile to the freedoms of any of my other friends. Not least of all because I can’t imagine wanting to spend time with such a person, and I question the real beliefs of anyone who would choose to spend time with such people.

So I said: “Did you just not have any non-Nazi-sympathizing applicants, or…”. And then, within a few hours, the NYT fired her. Not because of me, but because of the overwhelming number of people who shared the same sentiment. At which point the satire was complete: an editorialist hired to discuss the consequences of technology gets flamed online about her online history and is almost immediately fired.

The editorialist then took to Twitter to essentially admonish those who had participated in the campaign to get her fired. We’re powerful, she told us, and we had changed the lives of her and her family.

And so I thought about it. Was the woman who had bragged about being friends with Nazis, and about the fact that those Nazis might be less likely to hurt people based on race by virtue of their friendship, really trying to unironically accuse me of having participated in a lynch mob for holding her accountable for those choices? It seemed more accurate to see what happened as: a woman built her career by being *shocking* at the expense of marginalized people, but wanted the world to forget all that as soon as it became inconvenient and despite that she never renounced those choices. She could have chosen to come to terms with the fact that she had made some career limiting decisions in favour of immediate gratification, but instead she chose to play the victim: portraying this highly prestigious position as being her right and being held to account as an assault.

It reminded me of that Logan Paul controversy. Even Chrissy Teigen came to his defence, saying that people’s careers shouldn’t be ruined just because they made an ethical mistake. What in fact happened was that a Youtube star made the decision to try to get attention for his Youtube channel by posting a video of a body he’d found a man who’d presumably committed suicide, and was surprised to find out that he’d miscalculated the repercussions of that choice – not the ethics of it. There are a million teenagers behind Logan Paul in line to be the next big Youtube star, and I have absolutely no sympathy for those who trip over their own dicks and fall from grace. They were privileged to have experienced that kind of success at all, but one doesn’t become entitled to that kind of success just because they’ve attained it for some length of time.

I participated in the litigation against a guy who made his fortune claiming that he could get extraordinary returns for investors, but whose ability to offer results only lasted as long as the stock market was booming and who ended up losing peoples’ entire life savings. He didn’t “make a mistake”; his downfall was tied directly to what had made him “successful”. Likewise, people whose careers are going down in flames over revelations of past improper behaviour didn’t make a “mistake” – they perpetuated a system of abuse which benefitted them and people like them at the expense of those who they didn’t imagine would ever have the power to hold them to account. Again: their “mistake” wasn’t to misjudge the ethics of the situation, it was a miscalculation about the potential consequences of that behaviour.

To the extent that someone makes an honest mistake and is willing to take responsibility for it, I tend on the side of giving people a second chance. But sometimes people only deserve that kind of forgiveness to the extent that they are willing to bear the consequences of their actions, even to the point of giving up their positions of privilege.

Posted in: Progress

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